Feeds

Would it be BAD if the Amazon rainforest was all FARMS? Well it WAS, once

Used to be all fields round here: Jungle tribesman saying

The next step in data security

It's generally assumed that it would mean a disaster for the planet if the rainforests of the Amazon were to be replaced with farmland. But it turns out that, actually, much of the area was indeed farmland just a few thousand years ago.

We learn this from new research just published in the august Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A team of mainly British-based scientists carried it out, seeking to explain the presence of various large human-dug ditches and earthworks criss-crossing today's thick Amazon jungles - and pre-dating them.

Some in the paleo-boffinry community suggest that the ditches mean that the pre-Columbian civilisations of South America had slashed and burned the immemorial rainforests to create large intensively farmed areas home to dense populations. Others contend that actually the jungles remained largely intact, with just a few incursions by small communities of people.

Neither of these scenarios are true, apparently.

"We went to Bolivia hoping to find evidence of the kinds of crops being grown by ancient Amerindian groups, and to try to find how much impact they had on the ancient forest," explains Dr John Carson of Reading uni. "What we found was that they were having virtually no effect on the forest, in terms of past deforestation, because it didn't exist there until much later."

Carson goes on to say:

"The scale of the earthworks that were built on these sites suggests that the land was capable of supporting relatively large populations. Our analysis shows that they were growing maize and other food crops. They also likely caught fish, and there's evidence from other parts of the Bolivian Amazon for people farming Muscovy ducks and Amazonian river turtles.

"Our findings have serious implications for understanding past climate change, and how the Amazon basin might react to more modern forest clearance."

Carson cautions that the idea - advanced by some, since the earthworks have become known - that the rainforests will simply return naturally following modern deforestation is not supported by his new findings. The primitive Amazonians didn't deforest the area, so the fact that jungle spread across their farms from around the period 0-300AD - probably due to the climate getting wetter - doesn't mean that today's deforestations are easily reversible.

But the new research does rather conclusively cast doubt on the alternative notion, that the Amazon rainforests are an immutable necessity for a reasonable world climate. Plainly there have been times even just within recorded human history when large chunks of the current jungle simply weren't there, and the land was used for farms instead - without any associated eco-disaster.

Carson and his colleagues' research can be read by PNAS subscribers here. ®

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.